The Steelers have signed one of their former quarterbacks, Brian St. Pierre, and added him to the practice squad today in the wake of Ben Roethlisberger's appendectomy surgery.
St. Pierre, a fifth-round draft choice in 2003 who spent two seasons with the Steelers, will join rookie quarterback Omar Jacobs on the practice squad in an attempt to determine who will be signed to the 53-man roster to back up Charlie Batch for Thursday night's season opener against the Miami Dolphins.
St. Pierre is eligible for the practice squad because he has not appeared in enough NFL games to qualify as something more than a first-year player.
Roethlisberger had emergency laparoscopic surgery yesterday morning and is expected to miss the first two games of the regular season.
To make room for St. Pierre on the practice squad, the Steelers released John Kuhn of Shippensburg.
For Roethlisberger, the tour of city hospitals continues.
"He's cursed," declared teammate Brett Keisel.
The surgery was his second in less than three months, coming after he recovered from a near-fatal motorcycle accident on Second Avenue near the Armstrong Tunnel on June 12 in time to play in the preseason games. Doctors at Mercy Hospital had repaired a broken jaw, nose and orbital bone. He also had knee surgery last November.
"All he did to come back," said guard Alan Faneca, shaking his head. "He's had a busy offseason and preseason."
Thursday's game, intended to be a gala kickoff to the NFL season, already carries a pall because of the late Mayor Bob O'Connor's funeral that morning.
"That's the situation we're being dealt ...," said coach Bill Cowher after players filed quietly off the practice field last evening. "We're not asking for any pity and we're not going to make any excuses."
The Steelers went 2-2 without Roethlisberger last season, when he missed four games with two knee injuries. Batch was 2-0 as his replacement. The two quarterbacks attended the Pitt-Virginia game together Saturday night and Batch said he noticed nothing wrong with Roethlisberger.
But Roethlisberger, the youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl, felt ill yesterday morning after he reported to the Steelers' UPMC facility on the South Side and he was sent to Dr. Anthony Yates, the team internist.
"It's one of those deals you never really know what can happen at any given time," Batch said. "That's why you have to be ready, and this is prime example of it now."
There was a palpable downcast mood around the Steelers when they learned about Roethlisberger's latest run of bad luck. Perhaps it had much to do with how he overcame his June accident, that he played and practiced so well this summer and that the team felt strongly about its chances to defend the Super Bowl championship starting Thursday.
"We'll rally behind Charlie and everybody else will do so as well," Cowher said. "It's a situation that can happen to any football team. On any one day you go out there and have a starter go down, whether it's an ankle, hitting your hand on a helmet, that's the nature of this business.
"Adversity to me is not what knocks you down, it's how you handle it, how you respond to it. This football team has been down this road before, facing challenges and adversity."
In laparoscopic surgery no large incision is made. Instead, several tiny incisions are made to insert a scope and instruments. Such operations can greatly reduce the patient's recovery time.
In most cases the appendectomy can be completed within 20 to 30 minutes.
The patient has no physical restrictions and is expected to walk at least one to two miles per day.
Four years ago, receiver Hines Ward had the same surgery the day before the third preseason game. He missed the final two preseason games but started in the regular-season opener of 2002.
"It took me 5-7 days just to get walking around again and feeling kind of normal," said Ward, who caught eight passes, one for a touchdown, in his first game back.
The Steelers play their second game at Jacksonville Sept. 18, a Monday night. They return to Heinz Field Sept. 24 for an early AFC North showdown against defending division champion Cincinnati. That third game is the most likely target for Roethlisberger's return.
Batch, a Homestead native, has started 48 games in eight NFL seasons, the first four in Detroit.
"I feel good about Charlie," Cowher said. "I feel good about our football team, honestly. Certainly it's a challenge when you lose your starting quarterback. ... The good news about it, it's not anything that's going to be long-term. It's going to be short-term."
Said Faneca, "He's going to be missed. You start there and you say OK, you know we're going to move forward without him. The team must move on."
Ed Bouchette can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-3878.